Irish Sea Lime Trade

Irish Sea Lime Trade

The Kings of Wessex

The Kings of Wessex

The Iron Men of Shropshire

How They Put the World to Work

Publication Date15th June 2025

Book FormatPaperback





How the Industrial Revolution was born in Shropshire and the important role played by key people in Shropshire to develop large-scale iron smelting using coke and produce the first iron engines, boats, railways and bridges.
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The Industrial Revolution was born in Shropshire. Humans had known for millennia how to produce iron but it was an expensive business, needing large amounts of wood to make the charcoal to produce the iron and objects had to be beaten out in a blacksmith’s forge. Then in 1709, one man made the breakthrough that kickstarted the Industrial Revolution: how to make iron in vast quantities using coke instead of charcoal. In that year Abraham Darby built his pioneering coke-fired blast furnace to produce cast iron at Coalbrookdale.

Geology had concentrated iron in abundance in a few square miles of Shropshire, with all the other necessary materials to produce it and convert it into useful objects. The sudden availability of cheap iron brought together a group of men who were not Shropshire born but were drawn there by a common purpose. Amongst these men, John Wilkinson provided the technology that made that the modern steam engine possible and floated the first iron boat on the River Severn. Another engineer, Richard Trevithick, came to Shropshire to build the first locomotive, and Darby supplied the iron rails for it to run on. Shropshire iron was poured at William Hazledine’s ironworks at Shrewsbury to build the world’s first iron-frame building, Ditherington Flax Mill, which became the grandfather of all skyscrapers and still stands today. Thomas Telford became Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire, and his transformative route infrastructure included a cast-iron bridge across the River Severn and an iron aqueduct for the Severn Canal.

The technology of these Shropshire iron men made modern mass production possible, built our cities and all the complexity that sustains them, and us.

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